About Me

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I'm a life-long New Englander, father of 4 challenging kids (I know: I'm supposed to say "wonderful", but while that'd be true, technically speaking, it'd also be misleading), and fortunate husband to my favorite wife of more than 20 years. I've got over 20 years experience breaking things as a test engineer, quality engineer, reliability engineer, and most recently (and most enjoyably) a Product Safety / EMC Compliance Engineer. In the photo, I'm on the left.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Marriage = Work...or not.


Does it take work to make a great marriage?

My answer may surprise you: I don't know.

How can this be? I have what I consider to be a great marriage. Just about 22 years now, and I love my wife today probably deeper than ever I did in my misspent youth. Do we work at our marriage?

I don't know.

There are a couple of old tenets that are at odds, and that I think of every now and then:
1) It takes two people to make a marriage work
2) It takes two people to wreck a marriage.

Bzzzt! It only takes on ass to ruin what might otherwise be a perfectly good marriage.

Do my wife and I see eye-to-eye on everything? Absolutely not. In many aspects of our lives we have different viewpoints and different thoughts on how we approach issues. So how is it that we have an excellent, strong marriage? There are a few key points, and I'll share them with you (I'm feeling very giving right now...don't know why).

Know thyself, and use thee well

One thing that we do is that we tend to use our best tools for any given job.

That is, if there is someone who needs a bit of TLC, comfort, and caring for, DO NOT SEND ME TO DO IT. She is a nurse...a nurturer at heart. I am a somewhat pragmatic and very sarcastic (sometimes snide) engineer, and don't fully understand people. "...and does whining like a loose fan belt help you or this situation?" I'm not really very empathetic.

Need someone to deal with tweaking the investment portfolio. That's my job. I'm much more of a numbers person than she is. Need a something fixed? Usually my job (not that the Mrs. isn't capable, but it's how our individual strengths are put to use). Wiring up the entertainment systems? Me. Keeping in touch with friends and family? Her. Homework? Math, Science, & English: me; projects and displays: her. History: you're on your own, kid (although we'll both help, naturally).

Who cooks? We both do, but she more than I, I think. Grocery shopping? We both do, but me more than she, I think. I do more laundry and almost all the dishes (if I can't rope a kid into that), she cleans bathrooms and deals with chauffeur duty more than I do. I'm not allowed to paint ('cause I truly stink at it).

We're constantly working at life, and raising kids. Are we working at our marriage? I don't know.

We constantly say "I love you." (She more than I). We try to go out together, perhaps with another couple, every two or three weeks. I somewhat infrequently buy flowers for her (I've learned that she likes this...I don't understand, I just do). We talk about what the kids are up to, and if they're up to no good, we figure out what should our response be and deliver it together. We both tend to go to concerts, plays, sports games, etc...(she more than I, truth be told).

Assess your strengths, use them wisely, and grow weaknesses into strengths as much as possible.

How you say what you say...:

We certainly have our trouble communicating, she being quite right-brained and me being so far to the left, but in the back of my mind (and, I suspect, in the back of hers) is the certainty that we are both on the same team and are trying to swim in the same general direction...we have to remind ourselves to give the benefit of the doubt sometimes.

This alone was not an easy lesson to learn; I recall one time when our oldest was growing to be roughly adult-sized my wife had put on the lad's winter jacket and it almost fit. She had that playful pout on her face that made me think that she must be feeling pangs about having an almost adult-sized kid  (my baby's growing up sort of crap). In my infinite wisdom, I pointed out that the jacket remained too small for her. My thought was to mollify her sadness, indicating that the kid is not yet adult. She took it as me calling her fat.

We had a fight about that one! But this is one of those things that pointed out to me - that reminded me - that communication is the most important part of any relationship, and clear, accurate communication is one of the hardest things in the world to master.

This drives home a point that I have made to the kids numerous times, and to many of the people who have worked for me through the years: How you say what you say is generally more important than what you say.

The Benefit of the doubt:

We have communication troubles all the damn time. But let's acknowledge that communication is a multi-part process. You have a transmitter and a receiver  and they don't always share a common understanding of the words that are used. If I'm asked for a trash bag, I'm reaching for the tall white bag that we put into the trash barrel in the kitchen. Sometimes she meant a smaller shopping bag that she could throw a small something into in order to promptly put it outside in the barrel. Sometimes she meant the huge green contractor-sized trash bags.

This is, of course, a simple example, but it'll suffice to show that the words used were correct, but the message received was not necessarily the one that was transmitted. There are countless incidents of this sort, some of them not so simple or kind.

BUT, if, when I hear something from her that rankles me, I think about it and ask myself if she means what I heard, we can avoid a lot of conflict because the answer is almost always 'no, she couldn't have meant what I heard. She's better than that'.

Give the benefit of the doubt. When I bend down to pick something up, and she suddenly knees me in the head, assume that it wasn't done on purpose. She's a better person than that. When I hear her say something mean or derisive to me, I have to think that she said something other than what I heard. Look for clarification.

Let me esplain...no, there is too much; Let me Sum Up: 

To me, it all boils down to a few simple rules:

  • Be on the same side...even if you disagree, at the end of the day, when you confront your common "enemy", you still have to be a unified pair;
  • Give the benefit of the doubt...the message that came in my ears probably didn't come out of her mouth;
  • Communicate;
  • Let it go...we all make mistakes, and sometimes we don't communicate when we should have...sorry, can we get on with our lives?
  • Say "sorry" when it's warranted (and mean it...they can always tell if you don't mean it);
  • Buy flowers every now and then;
  • Share the load;
  • She should be his priority, he should be hers (forgive the genderization there...these things work equally well in same-gender relationships);
  • Play together often;
  • Be apart sometimes (guys' night out, girls' night out...);

Are these things "work"? I don't really think so. I think that these are just the rules of engagement for living in a community, which married couples do. For me, marriage is pretty easy.

I leave you with a quote:

"By all means marry; if you get a good wife, you'll be happy. If you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher."
~Socrates

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dividing by way of Multiplying

It may be that I'm an engineer, or it may be that the reason that I'm an engineer is the same reason that it bothers me, but I really get a wrinkle in my panties when I hear a lecturer, or see in an ad or on TV (or hear on the radio...) people using math incorrectly.

I'm not talking about when people make an error, and assert that 2+2=p.

I'm talking about when they just don't seem to understand what they're actually saying, but they're talking with great authority and confidence.

I know: what?

As examples:

"Eight times lower"...shouldn't that be "one eighth"? How can something be "Eight times less" than anything? This basic error I see frequently, and I'm sure that my beautiful wife is tired of me pointing it out when it crops out, but it bugs me.

There was an ad for a speed reading system on TV that asserted that you could experience a 1,000% increase in your reading speed. Wouldn't it be great to read everything 10 times faster?

Well, an increase of 10X isn't the same as a 1,000% increase.

Start: 100
A 100% increase brings you to 200, which is 2X.
A 200% increase brings you to 300, which is 3X
It's actually a 900% increase that will bring you to 10X

Here's one that had me wondering:

"We multiplied our efficiency by 50%"

Well, that just sucks. If you started at an efficiency of 100, and you multiply that by 50%, you're now at 50.

This means you got less efficient. You are now half as efficient as you used to be. I wouldn't crow about that.

This is on the coat tails of "Divided by half". When you divide by half, you end up with twice as much, but the advertisements are usually suggesting that you get half of what you started with. I'd hate to divide my electric bill by half...I'd end up paying twice as much!

I recall back in the year 2,000. The Millennium.

Ah, no...that wasn't the Millennium. Of course, those of us who pointed that out were ridiculed endlessly (actually, that's not accurate: the ridicule did end, eventually), and I'm really not sure why. The transition from December 31 2000 to January 1 2001 would have been the Millennium. The mass media and the mainstream didn't seem to care. Or rather, they DID care...they preferred to be wrong! I get the same sorts of responses with these math issues of mine: seems like people would rather be wrong, and rely upon me to "know what they mean".

We've spoken before, I think, about how people allow themselves to use poor language skills, relying upon their listener to simply "know what they mean". This is the same sort of corruption, I think. I'm supposed to just magically "know what they mean". I like to think that the better idea is for the speaker to think about what they're trying to say, and say what they mean. That way, miscommunication is minimized. At the end of the day, I know me: I hardly ever know what anyone means! :)

I'm all alone again, aren't I?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Linkedin Endorsements...FEH!

I read over on Matt Conlon's page his opinion about a new "fad" that's hit the professional social page Linkedin of late. It's called "endorsements". He has a great explanation about it, and why it sits so poorly with him; read it here, on his blog.

Essentially, these endorsements are intended to be exactly what they sound like: one professional is stating in a rather public fashion that it is their professional opinion that THIS PERSON is very good at THIS SKILL.

As a "for instance", I have skills listed on my profile of Product Verification, Risk Management, ISO 14971, and many others that are relevant for the work that I've done these past decades. I don't recall adding all of these, although when this feature first popped up on my radar, I did add one or two (or ten).

It's a great idea.

But the implementation sucks.

Linkedin has made this endorsement scheme pretty much exactly like (how I understand) FaceBook's "like" button.

Click. Done.

This has become a problem for me, and for many other professionals (like Matt) because it's too easy.

What I think of as the perfect example:

I had gotten endorsements from people with whom I worked, and I knew that they knew my abilities in (for instance) Risk Management. Great: they think I'm pretty good at that. Thanks! Let me wander over to your profile and endorse you for (for instance) Electronics Design, as I have worked with you while you designed things that I subsequently broke. You're pretty darn good at your Electronics Design work, and I say so.

Then I got an endorsement or two from people with whom I'm friends, but with whom I've never worked. What the huh!?!? How, exactly, do you know that I'm good at basket weaving? Well, I suppose that they, as a friend, decided that I'm a relatively smart fellow, and I've been basket weaving ever since I set Moses afloat in that stream so long ago...they up and endorsed me because they know my character, and know that I wouldn't lie about such a thing. I MUST be good at it.

Then I got endorsements from a person that I know from professional groups that I have belonged to at one point or another. We'll call him "Racer X".

This one puzzled me, and I considered it to be that person just looking to be a good doobie, and telling the world that I'm a stand-up guy. Ok...sort of defeats the purpose of the endorsement thing, but ok.

Then Racer X endorsed me for something else the following day. I looked into his profile, and saw that he is currently unemployed. OK...he's scrounging around Linkedin for job leads, and my ugly face popped up in front of him, and the easiest way for him to keep from puking at the sight of me was to hit "endorse". Go away, thou foul visage.

Should I run out and endorse Racer X? I've never worked with him. One thing that matters to me is my reputation. All the dirty stuff that I do, I do behind closed doors, with a great deal of plausible deniability and no witnesses (and spoofed IP adresses). My name is, thus far, pretty darn clean. I like to think that in my professional circles, my name carries the wind of honor and dignity. No, really...it does.

Then the next day he endorsed me again. Something's up here.

That day, I got a call from one of the Directors in my company's Quality Assurance department. "Hi, Throckmorton." Said he. "We're currently interviewing a person for the position of Progress Slower-Downer, and this fellow appears to know you...can you tell me anything about Racer X?"

Aaahhh...Sokath, his eyes uncovered! (That there's a Star Trek reference...you might have to look it up!).

NOW I understand: Racer X is looking for a job in my company, and he's clearly hoping that, if he endorses me, I will reciprocate and endorse him back! Well, hell.

This is irritating to me, to say the least. These sorts of endorsements mean nothing at all to me. AND, they serve to dilute the value of legitimate endorsements. It makes the whole scheme a useless pile of fertilizer.

If someone wants endorsements or recommendations from me, there are basically two guiding principals by which I oblige:

  • I have to know you, and have direct experience with your ability in the specific skill for which I am endorsing you;
  • I have to like you (which basically means that you're a stand up guy or gal who always tries to do your best in the interest of the company / project and the people with whom you're working);
My name, my reputation, means something to me, and I will protect it. I have, more than once, told people calling me for references for people whom they are interviewing to NOT hire certain folks. When these folks ask me if I'll be a reference for them, I do tell them that I might not be the best choice.

I have, more than once, written and provided glowing references for people of high character and fiber. I will do everything that I can to help a person who wants to work well and actually earn what they get.

This brings to mind some lyrics of a song, which bounce through my mind every now and then, and have since high school:

Don't ask me what I think of you, I might not give you answers that you want me to.
~Fleetwood Mac (apparently...but could be "The Rockets"...Google seems a little confused about that)

At the very least, if you want a reference from me, make sure that you know that I know that you are a person that I would want to work with, and whom I trust to work to the best of your abilities for the company, and for the people around you. I will praise you from the highest mountain in these cases.

As for Linkedin's Endorsements: FEH! I think that I may just go out and see if I can disable that feature.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Blessed Problem

I've come to a realization regarding one of my big issues with the world today. Actually, I think that this is a problem that has been lurking in the world far before my time, and will continue far beyond my time, and I'm stunned when I realize that there are some folks who are completely unaffected by it. Meanwhile, other people, like me, are somewhat constantly caught in the grips of this affliction, and can never fully escape, although we might from time to time find ourselves unencumbered for a short while...only to be fully ensnared again in short order.

This issue is one that saps your energy, disrupts concentration, makes it very difficult to make decisions or to gain traction on any project(s) that you might have on your To Do list. It also utterly disrupts any daily routines that you might have.

It's not wholly on the negative, though. There's a constant learning curve that you find yourself on; I do like to learn new things on a regular basis. Learning new things seems to me to be a necessity for having a fulfilling life. It seems to me that if I'm not learning something, some small part of me is falling into atrophy. Of course, I'd like to have some control over the things that I'm learning, and due to this condition of mine, I don't seem to always have the control that I'd like in that respect.

The issue? The condition? Affliction? This thing of the world...of the human condition...that is so challenging?

It simple: there are just too darn many interesting things in the world. Every time that I look around, something of interest catches my eye, my attention, and my mind. It doesn't matter what I might have been doing, or intending to do, something crops up in the course of the day, and like a raven to a shiny bauble, I'm ensnared. Off I go to study that new thing, or to do something that I had no intentions of doing, and those things that I had intended doing are left undone.

Ugh.

This is what has kept me from frequent writing out here, from reading things that have long been on my list, from undertaking projects that I'd like to undertake for pleasure and entertainment value, and all other sort of minor goals that I'd like to see accomplished.

I signed up for a wood turning course recently; I've been longing to learn how to turn wood for years, but there was always something else to engage me. I'll have to sign up for that again, as it was cancelled.

I traveled to the US Northwest for a week at the beginning of November and there were nearly endless things of interest there. In flight, I typically read, and I had loaded up my kindle with a couple of books (I'm a very slow reader!) that have been on my list to read for a long while. However, two magazines caught my eye; they were as shiny as shiny gets. National Geographic, both: 50 of the World's Last Great Places, and one that focused on historical figures like Ben Franklin and Leonardo DaVinci. I read the second, but haven't cracked the first.

I've been thinking of joining Toastmasters, which is a group that helps you to hone your public speaking skills and be more comfortable talking in front of others. This is helpful in all forms of communication, whether that's at home, in the office, or in front of those live groups.

I've been asked to participate in the Ad Com in a professional society that I've been a member of for 10+ years.

As I looked for resources on learning wood turning, one person to whom I reached out suggested that I join the somewhat local wood turner's social club.

Waiting for doctors to attend me and mine, I have finally read a couple of Shakespeare's plays (A Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night). I've started reading The Bronze Eagle, by
Baroness Emmuska Orczy. There's just plain too much of interest to read!

I can recall back in the early 90s, when the company that I worked for was downsizing by offering what I would call exceedingly attractive severance packages to workers. I know a few workers who received over 2 years' salary to NOT return to work. But there were some who were on the proverbial fence. Of near-retirement age, and offered a severance package that would pay them essentially a year or more...seems like a good idea to me.

More than one voiced a concern, not about finances and how they might meet monetary obligations after they are no longer working, but rather about what to do to fill their day. Even today my jaw drops at this "problem".

If I retire, what do I do every day? How do I fill my time?
Really?!? That's a problem for people? Am I the only one with interests outside of work? Are there really people who can look at the world around them and not find *something* of interest? I remember my boss back in that time was  fellow who had many legitimate hobbies, plus a relatively new grandson. What do you do with your day?

Spend time with your grandchild.
Do some wood working (which he did like to do)
Fix the house
Read
Crosswords
Hike (or walk)
Volunteer your time (food pantries, libraries, school systems...the list goes on and on)
Fish
Golf
Swim
Write
Talk to your wife
"Talk" to your wife :)
Learn how to cook

My personal list seems to me to endless. How can anyone not have any idea of what to do with their time if they're not working? This notion boggles my mind, especially since I can barely concentrate long enough to get one project completed before something else grabs my attention and asks to be considered. Most of my project are about 80% completed at best.

I still have one cabinet to complete for the kitchen that I remodeled about 5 years ago.
I never put all of the screws in the deck that I built 4 years ago. And there's a railing that needs to be added now that we've changed a window.
I've been cleaning and organizing my workshop; that's about 75% completed, and I'm wondering when I'll get back to it.
There's some trim that's not quite completed in the bathroom that I remodeled...I don't know...9 years ago.
It's pretty close to winter here and I haven't made a "home" for our kayaks in the basement. Time's running out for that one!
I've always wanted to be a published writer, and I do have a book about half written. I started writing it right after I got married more than 2 decades ago. When will that get finished?

Then there's what the future holds:
I have a few ideas for businesses: something to keep retirement entertaining;
I'd like to take some cooking classes (There's a weekend-long grilling course in the Smokey Mountains (I think) that I've long wanted to attend);
More wood working classes and projects;
I've been thinking of another blog that would concentrate on reviewing products from a reliability, functionality, usability perspective;
More writing;
More reading;
I've always thought that there should be a radio show dedicated to what I call "should have been classics" - dedicated to the thousands of awesome songs that have been recorded but that have never gotten air time;

Every week I get another thought on things that I'd like to be doing.

With all the stuff that the world has to offer, am I the only one that has trouble finding the time to do things (like blogging) and complete projects? I'll try to be better in the future, but dog-gone it, there's just so much to do, and so little time!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

I know: I've been awfully errant. I apologize, and I do thank those of you who have reached out to touch base and ensure that no calamity has befallen me and mine. To run the risk of a Jinx or a Voodoo curse, we are all fine.

Everyone in my house other than me has been sick; most have had a cough that would wake the dead and that has persisted for about a month now. That made for close to no sleep for a week or so, and lots of antibiotics in the house between sinus infections, pneumonia, and general bronchial unease (a rampant issue in this house). This too: my beautiful wife's grandmother, *this* close (mere weeks away) to her 100th birthday, has been in the hospital for a couple of weeks. She is on her last leg now...time is not her ally these days. She rather literally popped a gasket: high blood pressure caused a bleed in her brain. It's all pretty much down hill from there, if you're 100 years old.

We are, at the end of the day, however, fine. The sun rises and sets, and there is relative peace in our house, if not tranquility.

I have been taking copious bloggable notes and fully intend to visit them anon and get back to these writings.

In the meantime, I wanted to wish all of you a happy Thanksgiving. This is one of my favorite holidays of the year. This, and Christmas. Not to mention December 8, which is National Brownie Day (believe it or not). Brownies are among the most perfect treats, and I have long held that they should be made in the old ice trays - the ones that were aluminum. Brownies should have all edges; it ought to be a law.

Another thing that ought to be brownie law: Never, ever, ever...put any kind of nut in a brownie. Chocolate chips are ok (in fact they're better than ok...they're yummy and not bad), but under penalty of brownie death: no frickin' nuts.

I intend today to undo much of the waist-melting that I've been striving at over the last couple of years, and I intend to enjoy doing so as much as possible. I hope you join me in my assault on skinny today. Tomorrow we can get back to the grind, should we be driven to it, or should we desire, but today: eat, drink, and be merry!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

CyberJerks

Today, as I looked to my reading, I stopped by The Feathered Nest to find out what my friend Delores had to say. Today, she wanted to talk on cyber bullying.

I thought I'd ramble on the thoughts that Delores provoked.

Bullying, naturally, has been around since the dawn of time. Literally, I'm willing to bet. Many of us have been targets of it, and few of us will admit to being the perpetrator. But the face of bullying has changed, it seems.

When I was a kid, my bullies looked like one of two images:

Either this guy (image from 20th Century Fox):

 Or this guy (found on an un-credited site...sorry!)

For contrast, I didn't start growing until I was around 20. Going into high school I weighed about 70 lbs and stood around 4'10". By the end of high school, I was a lot closer to 6', and weighed in just shy of 140 lbs. I had beefed up significantly. I was certainly a target!

Two basic rules of the bully back in that day:
1) They were physically HUGE, and targeted smaller folks or chubby folks who didn't have a following;
b) They were cowards who traveled in packs

These were, of course, rules of thumb. There were deviations from these stereotypes. Well, from the first one. I never found a bully who wasn't a coward and did all of their bullying with a handful of people of low fiber at their back.

The profile of the bully has changed though. They're still cowards, but now they do most of their bullying over the internet. My sense is that today, many of these bullies are female, whereas in my day, they were mostly male.

The results seem to have changed too. "Back then", a bullied kid might come home with torn clothes, or a black eye, bloody nose...whatever. Bullying often promoted a physical contest (one that was exceedingly one-sided). The old piece of conventional wisdom was that once you stood up to the bully, he would no longer bother with you. This wasn't always true, but it was true a significant portion of the time.

Today, there's no safe haven, really. You can't go home, or go on vacation. It isn't the case that you'll be out of contact with the idiots for the summer, and when you get back to school you'll find that you'd changed over the summer and were now bigger than your tormentor was. Today, over the internet, it's business as usual 24/7/365.

AND, the things that kids allow themselves to say to each other over the net is unbelievable. I think in large part because of the lack of today's personal nature of bullying, and the absence of the intimate relationship.

I'm reminded of a quote:
In films murders are always very clean. I show how difficult it is and what a messy thing it is to kill a man.
~Alfred Hitchcock

If your bully is in your face, they can see the reaction of their words. In fact, that's what yesterday's bully was feeding off of. They could also see when they had crossed a line, though. When the rage flared in their target, or when the victim finally did snap and attacked. The act of bullying was a messy affair.

That feedback loop doesn't exist with cyber bullying. Today it's a cleaner thing to bully someone, and I think that this emboldens today's bully to heighten their callous behavior while at the same time not affording the victim what might be considered a legitimate outlet for the rage that is being sowed within them.

Bullies have never picked on other bullies. They don't pick on kids who kick puppies. They pick on the perceived weaker members of society.

The cowards are far more cowardly today than they were yesterday. Today, they don't even have the courage to face their victim. They weave their web of evil without ever affording their victim any true opportunity to respond. Remember that victims are often people who would not naturally engage in such toxic behavior (from my experience this is the case), so responses are somewhat rare, and don't carry the toxicity of the attack. And at the same time: the bully doesn't get any feedback, and really can't appreciate what a messy thing it is that they're doing. They've got no cause-and-effect until they hear that someone committed suicide.

I'm not arguing the yesterday's bully was a kinder, more gentle bully than today's, but the whole dynamic is different today than it was yesterday, and I think that these differences might be a big part of the reason that it seems like today, bullying results in suicides while yesterday it resulted in bloody noses. Of course, perhaps there were many suicides yesterday than we have heretofore been aware of...maybe we're just more aware of the suicides today?

I'd be interested to know how a bully feels when they hear that their victim has committed suicide because of the bullying? I wonder if they feel anything? For the rest of their lives?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Fallible Nature of Mnemonics

Do you make use of mnemonics to learn things? Do you remember My Dear Aunt Sally from algebra? This mnemonic is supposed to help us remember the order of mathematical operations: Multiplication,  Division, Addition, Subtraction. Since I was in school, they've changed this to "Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally" to include Parentheses and Exponents.

"Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain" ring any bells? This phrase is supposed to help us remember the colors of the rainbow (and their order): Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.
The more sociopathic among you might better recognize "Run Over Your Granny Because It's Violent"

Young Electrical Engineers are taught (or so I'm told) that "Bill Brown Realized Only Yesterday Good Boys Value Good Work" to help them remember the color coding of electronic resistors, which utilize a sequence of colored bands around the component, and the order of the colored bands will tell you what the numerical resistance value is. The colors, in order, are Black, Brown, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Violet, Gray, White.

Older Electrical Engineers were taught a different phrase: "Bad Boys Rape Our Young Girls But Violet Gives Willingly." We all wanted to know where Violet lived, naturally.

Mnemonics have probably been around since mankind was still in its proverbial diapers, and they certainly have their value; I have made as many for myself that were helpful as I did that were not.

To wit:

I have a pair of nieces who are twins. They are not identical twins, but are fraternal (or, I suppose, sororal). Like many twin sets these days, their parents named the first born with a name that begins with "A" and the second born a name that begins with "B".

Despite their being very, very different from each other, I was unable to get a handle on which was which until they were about 8 years old. How stupid am I, eh? I decided at one point that I could use a nice, easy mnemonic for this.

Baby B has blue eyes! B = Blue, and also = Bertha! Easy!
But not for me...Baby A has brown eyes, and B also = Brown. So, does Bertha have Brown or Blue eyes? No idea.

Did I go instead with A = Andrea and also Azure? Does Andrea in fact have Azure eyes? ugh...I could screw up a nap!

When my beautiful wife sent me for Plain yogurt, I got in trouble for coming home with Vanilla. Doesn't Plain = Vanilla? Isn't the phrase "Plan, vanilla wrapper"? This one I screwed up for years...do I get Plain, or Vanilla?

Am I the only one who screws up mnemonics?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Just a quick drop-in to share something new (to me):

A new planet that could be 33% diamond!    <----It's a link!

Just cool...that's all.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Curmudgeonly Wisdom on The Nature of Women

I fairly recently found a file that I had long ago thought was long-gone: my old MS Outlook pst file! This single file held a huge cache of e-mails dating back years. I almost cried when I thought I had lost it.

I thought I'd share you a bit of my finite wisdom, which had been buried in this treasure mine and that I recently unearthed:

The set-up:

A friend of mine had recently gotten married, and he was going through some growing pains as he adjusted out of his decades-long life as a bachelor. His new wife and her young daughter had moved into his heretofore inviolate bachelor pad. One day he sent to a few of his long-married friends this missive:

Just so I’m clear, is it in a woman’s nature to rearrange furniture at least twice in a year?

I did my level-best to help:

1) Your question suggests that any man (any of these three men, particularly) would have ANY insight regarding "woman's nature"
2) It is my experience that womenfolk do tend to get tired of the same arrangement of furniture on a periodic basis
3) They will similarly get tired of specific pieces of furniture on a periodic bases

At times like this, you might come home from work one day to find that a particular piece of furniture that they bought some years ago has been replaced by a new piece of similar furniture. DO NOT BE SURPRISED if she contends that she has always hated the replaced piece of furniture, and that it "had to go", her "being sick of it".

IMPORTANT NOTE: when this happens to you DO NOT (repeat: DO NOT) ask her why she purchased the piece of furniture that she now declares that she never liked. Questions like this are documented as being responsible for things like the Chernobyl incident, the Three Mile Island disaster, Mount Vesuvius, and the Permian Extinction (not to mention the end of the dinosaur's reign).

Man's Logic: If you didn't like it, then why did you buy it?
Womans "Logic": lakuerpkjk jfoiwej qw345 kdouks iowiefdks!! (When you manage to decode this, please forward the "rationale" to me...I'd be very interested. Perhaps we could make a sort of rosetta stone out of the answer.

Quick survey:
Pre-Nuptual: How many items did you have in your ownership that were floral in decoration? Call this answer "A"
Post-Nuptual: How many items do you have in your ownership that are floral in decoration? Call this answer "B"

B-A=X

We're not sure what exactly "X" is, but as a numerical value we belive that it will have some impact on man's ultimate salvation. Please note that in MOST circumstances, B is extrememly close to X.

Let me know when you show up at home and find the place completely re-painted (or when you wake up in the morning and find similar phemonena). My favorite is coming home and finding either new walls in places where there weren't walls, or no walls in places where there WERE walls.

I'll say again what I said when I heard that you were getting married: Good luck with that. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Spoiler Alert! - I DO Care!

This post is intended to pay homage to a fellow blogger - Matt Conlon. He wrote an excellent post titled similarly to this one; read it here.

Not to spoil anything, but the crux of his post  (at least the crux that provoked this particular post that you're reading now) is to wonder why a person might be reticent to "spoil" the end of a movie or book by telling how it turns out.

I'm on the other side of the coin from Matt. I absolutely hate it when someone tells me ahead of time how a movie ends, and I also hate it when people ask me what happens in a movie or in a book. I hate telling folks what is going to happen.

My lovely wife is one that wants to know what happens, and I hate to tell her.

I'm glad to have read Matt's post though, as it gives me an understanding of how other folks enjoy things. I think that going forward I will have less trouble in answering the "what happens" question.

But Matt also asks what motivates dolts like me to NOT like to answer that question; he asks:

What could possible matter to you about sharing a story you already know with someone who doesn’t? What do you get out of knowing something that I don’t, which I will eventually anyway? Do you get some sort of perverse feeling of superiority from it? Some kind of “I read faster and comprehend better than you, and if you can’t just do it, then you don’t belong in the “I know the end of that story” club with me?

I'll attempt to answer this question. It's got nothing whatever to do with a sense of superiority, or of me trying to piss you off in any way. Although, being who I am, I can definitely understand that you might be thinking that I'm trying to piss you off! :)

I like to tell jokes. I like to relate stories of funny things that happened. I like to think that I'm pretty good at relating things in such a manner as to lead my listener from one point to the other in a nice, uniform way that delivers impact.

I believe that a story should be related in its intended fashion. For a movie or a book, things take place in a certain time and way, and writers, directors, actors, and others work really hard to deliver their message such that it will have the greatest impact and leave you, the watcher or reader, with a certain set of impressions and emotions. The only way you're going to get that is to watch the movie in the order that it's intended.

As a "for instance", try this joke:

Once in a land far, far away there lived a group of people called Trids. The Trids were happy except for the huge ogre that lived on the mountain. The ogre would periodically terrorize the Trids.

"Silly Rabbi, kicks are for Trids!"

I have enjoyed this joke since I was a kid...something like 6th grade. Of course, reading it from above, it doesn't seem funny at all!

You can see the actual joke at answerbag.com.

How about the guy who refused Novocaine when he went to the dentist?

I ran out of chain!

This joke is on this page.

My point is that experiencing a story or movie in the order that it's intended is crucial to maximizing enjoyment of that story.

Matt's point is probably better: He doesn't care! He's right too: it's crucial to MY maximizing MY enjoyment of that story.

Of course, my lovely wife says that she would enjoy it better if she knows the ending, but at the same time I've seen her enjoy movies much better for sitting through them. "The Illusionist" (2006, Edward Norton, Jessica Biel) is a prime example of this. The very last scene, where Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti's best performance ever, in my opinion) is "putting it all together" is awesome. But, that scene would be completely trashed if I were to have described it ahead of time. I saw my beautiful wife attending that scene with great focus, and I firmly believe that had she and I discussed that ahead of time, she would have enjoyed it a lot less.

So, there you have it: the other side of the coin.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Cost of a Secondary Education

It's been much on my mind of late, to be sure. One in college, another about to go in just a couple of years away. The cost here in America of a college education is way, way, way too much. Everyone seems to agree. The sticker prices that I've seen range from low $20k per year (plus room, food plans, and other insundry items) to mid $50k per year plus the aforementioned insundry items. Total costs more like $28K to $60K, excepting most community colleges and Ivy League.

The cost since I went has far outstripped inflation. One wonders if Physics has changed, that they must constantly create new laws and rules and what not. Fair: there's more history now than there was a quarter of a century ago, but not all the kids are taking history...they don't really have all that much more to learn!

I've been reading a bit about this, and there are several arguments about exactly why college is so ridiculously priced.

They point to the fact that many colleges have installed "world-class" fitness facilities with rock walls, archery ranges, and other niceties to lure students. More stuff = more students = more money, but more stuff costs more money = higher tuition. Some other probable causes are gourmet food services. The argument is that kids are eating awesome food, fit for kings! Not the swill that I ate in my day. Better food = higher costs = higher tuition. BUT, better food is a lure for the kids. It's cyclical.

I read that some years ago our government tried to make secondary education more affordable by offering more money (mostly low interest loans) to families sending kids to school. Colleges perked up: "They have more money? GREAT!! We can take that!" These loans didn't make it easier to pay; the made our education cost more!

Businessweek had a decent article about this here:
http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-09-06/student-loans-debt-for-life#p1

Most of what I've read really tip-toes around what I think is truly the cause of out-of-control college costs in America:

GREED

Seems to me that a couple of generations ago, it was perfectly possible for a kid to pay his or her own way through college, and it was quite common to do so. I did, as did my beautiful wife. We had loans, but we were able to pay those loans. In some cases (not really ours, but in other cases), parents were able to help out and did so as much as they could.

Colleges, I'm thinking, put their nose into the wind and smelled money. "What? Mom and Dad are paying?!? Why, they've got more money than kids do...let's take that money!"

And the KA-CHING! sounded in the hallowed halls of American education.

"What? Many parents have houses! With Equity, no less! Why, I'm sure they won't mind digging into that for Jr's education!"

KA-CHING!

"What's this I hear? Mom and Dad were saving for retirement!?! HAHA! It is to laugh! Let us jack up tuition and take that as well!"

KA-CHING!

I can't find the article now, but I read one recently that said that one school's Dean (or president...can't recall which) went from a salary of ~$150k in 2000ish to ~$650k in 2010. Did anyone else get a 433% pay raise in that decade, while we were all losing pensions and 401(k) value? Not to mention the value of our real estate (and / or our jobs)? And not for nothing, am I the only one who thinks it's absolutely crazy that a school official makes more per year than the President?

Also note: that 433% is actually HALF A MILLION DOLLARS!!! Anyone else making an additional half million per year? Not I, certainly.

It's pure, unadulterated greed.

"But wait: we have put in this most awesome workout room! Free for your son or daughter to use!"

I'd rather get them a membership at a nearby gym and save myself the money. Not for nothing, my kids don't go to gyms. Kids will also by and large eat utter crap and be happy about it! Gourmet food is completely lost on them!

I have an idea, why don't you dispense with niceties, and keep my kid in school more? For the money that it costs, it absurd that they're out of school (and I know it varies) from late April to Late August, and for a month around New Year's, and then again for a week in the spring! They attend classes for just over half the year!

And the final blow: You spend 4 years to get a BA degree, pile up $100k in debt, and you can (if you're really lucky) get a job earning $30k per year. That's if the job is open, which it probably isn't because the fellow who helped you pay for the $125k that you didn't borrow to get through school can't retire because the school took the equity in his home and raped his savings, so he still needs the job and can't afford to retire!

Greed. And the paper isn't worth it anymore, but neither can we dispense with it.

Just plain greed. And no one is really saying that.

This is one of those cases where everyone knows that there's a pile of elephant crap in the middle of the room, and they're all looking at the bottom of their shoes to find out where the stink is coming from.

"Perhaps the baby needs a change, luvvie?" As he lights his cigar with a $1,000 dollar bill.
"And fire the cook!"

Saturday, September 29, 2012

When Does a Child Become an Adult?

September is, without a doubt, the fastest month of the year around here. It's been a month since I've been here at all, but we've been so busy that other than at work, I don't know that I booted my computer more than once or twice in the past month.

What consumes so much time? And so quickly, no less?
Back to school, with it's tectonic schedule shifting, open houses to meet and greet (for the millionth time) the teachers, which carries with it Individual meetings for each kid with an IEP;
Music lessons start for three kids;
CCD starts for two kids;
Soccer season for two of the kids (four practices per week and two games...at least this year, for the first time ever, the four practices are on just two nights every week)
American Football season starts, which makes me look forward to sitting on my duff on Sundays
Autumn - my very favorite season - also starts, and being a bit more happy makes things go faster.

The eldest scion also went back to college about 15 nanoseconds before he and I came to fisticuffs. we fought the whole summer long. I've come to the conclusion that there's a reason why, when a male lion gets to a certain age, they have to leave the pride. Same goes for male elephants: they get to a certain age, and off they go. If they don't, someone's going to get killed.

The issue is one of biology, I think. In their late teens and early 20s, kids are thinking that they are fully grown adults. They are fully capable, able to drive and be autonomous, they can vote and serve their respective countries, they are in their majority. What they don't understand is how friggin' arrogant, stupid, foolish, and inexperienced they are.

Quote alert:
It's amazing how old kids are getting these days.
~Me

As I've gotten older and more gray, I went from being the "kid" around the workplace to being one of the senior members of the engineering staff. Of course, in my new job, I'm the kid again, as many of the engineers are either pushing or have passed retirement age, and I've got a few miles left on the tires before I get there.

But these days, I look at other workers in the office and regard them as kids up until the time that they are in their mid- of late-30s, it seems. Kids have gotten *really* old!

This is not to say that they are not excellent engineers (or workers in general, whatever the role that they fill), or that they are not smart and well suited or well versed at their jobs. They are in many cases truly excellent workers and assets to the company. It's just that my definition of "kid" has changed. And all of my like-aged colleagues and friends have thus far agreed with me.

Kids are getting older and older.

Here's a conversation with my kid, about a week before he set off for college:

Me: "I wanted to apologize for our argument yesterday. I started too aggressively, and when you postured and became defensive, I also became defensive; I reacted badly and escalated the argument, which you then reflected. You and I have to agree to be more considerate of each other. We need to give each other the benefit of the doubt, and not assume that we're trying to fight with each other. We need to be calmer, and treat each other with more respect, and try to not fight.

Him: "I can't promise that."

Me: "Moron (actually, I used his name, but this works pretty well), we really have to try to get along; we live together, and constantly fighting is bad. We need to treat each other with more respect and not be so aggressive with each other."

Him: "That's kind of my go-to response."

Now, here's a full-grown 20ish "adult", right? There are many examples of people his age starting families. He's a smart person - much smarter than average, really - but he's such a damn moron that he'd rather fight with me than not! This kind of boggles my mind.

Guess whose name is on the lease of the car that he drives? He pays for it, but guess who pays the insurance? Guess who fills out the financial aid forms that are required for him to return to school? His mother, actually, but she and I are a good team. Guess where he intends to return to when he's not allowed to be on campus at school (holidays, summer, and the like)?

Our tension is born mostly from his desire to sit and play video games pretty much all day every day while his mother and I work for the money, shop for the food, cook the food, feed him, and then clean up. He wants to come out of his room, eat food then go back to his room. The other household chores are for his younger siblings to do.

I (we), on the other hand, demand that if you're consuming resources, you're going to be contributing to the various efforts that get the house from one end of the week to the next. And it has always been this way in our house. I've often noted that I'm not raising children...I'm raising adults, which I will one day release into the world. They need to be fully functioning at that time. They've always had chores with the expectation to contribute to the family unit and household.

You tell me: is this an adult, or an over-grown child?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Kayaking in August


So a few weeks ago the wife and I bought these:


(image from wildernesssystems.com)

We've been spending quite a bit of weekend time finding new places to paddle and...well...paddling.


I thoughts I'd share with you a pictorial of our outing of this weekend (four or five hours' worth of paddling):


These are two views of the lovely reservoir that we chose this weekend. This is a 530-acre reservoir that, surprisingly to those of us just getting into this sport, is remarkably close to ot tiny home! Took us about 20 minutes to get there.










This is Mr. (or Mrs.) Cormorant. There were several of these suckers on the lake.



















When I saw the number of swans that littered the reservoir, I was actually stunned. I have never seen so many swans in one day.











Cool plants:


By far the most spectacular fellow we saw up close and personal (I actually got within 25 feet or so when this guy decided he didn't like my stench):

We also saw a sizeable Osprey, which I was not quick enough to capture with my sub-adequate camera (most of these images above were taken by my beautiful wife), and a small hawk that flew low just over our heads with its breakfast in talon.

Go buy a kayak!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Benefits of Lethargy

I know...what??

In fact, this conversation is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I can't help arguing that lazy folks have done far more good for this world than they get credit for.

I have a vested interest in this argument, of course; I come from an exceedingly long line of talented and accomplished lethargists, and I find it distressing that conventional wisdom would have it that our people's (lethargists) collective contribution to the world is nothing other than waste of time, waste of opportunity, and a burden to so-called "productive" people everywhere.

You see it all the time; there are quotes and adages like, "Idle hands are the Devil's playthings" or this quote:

"Inspiration is a guest that does not willingly visit the lazy."
~Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

No, no, Pyotr! I disagree. I think that Agatha Christie had it right:

“I don't think necessity is the mother of invention. Invention . . . arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness. To save oneself trouble.”
~Agatha Christie

Remembering that I'm right now in a bit of a whimsical mood, let us look upon some of what I think that *we* think are great advantages of our lives today, and see what inspired these things...

When mankind felt too lazy to carry his own seeds and plants, he invented the hand cart (or what is today the wheelbarrow). A great gizmo, that.

Early fishers had a devil of a time keeping their faces below water long enough for a fish to swim into their mouths; they invented the fishing pole and promptly sat on the shore sleeping while fish swallowed hooks and waited patiently to be killed.

Sick of chasing down prey animals like the cave bear and slaying them with teeth and fingers, early hunters invented the spear, and ultimately the bow! The later invention of the rifle allowed red necks everywhere to sit up in trees and swill beer in order to catch food: just aim & shoot. Piece of cake, PLUS, they got out of the house for a day without chores.

The invention of the automobile came about because some fellow was too lazy to actually walk to the store for his bread. "Wouldn't it be easier to sit in a seat and just ride there?" Wondered he. "And too: I could do it all in one trip, not having to talk to and fro so many times for so much to get home." Thus: the car.

The sail that you see on boats was invented because someone was too lazy to row. And not for nothing, the vikings could easily have swam to North America (the less lazy folks who got here ahead of the vikings walked, after all), but it was easier to do it in a boat...lethargy strikes again.

Once upon a time, if you wanted to talk to someone, you walked over to their house and had a chat. That changed with the telephone, and the lazy escalated to where we are today: e-mail and texting. How many folks text to other people who are in the same house as them (I know I do!!)?

Gas ovens, so we don't want to have to cut the wood, stack it, bring it in, and pay attention to the state of the fire? Microwave ovens, because we're too lazy to cook on the stove? Frozen dinners, so I don't have to cut anything or peel potatoes?

Vacuum cleaners, because it's too much work to sweep (or take out and beat the carpets). These led to robots that sweep and wash the floors!

I'm going to submit that MOST of the modern-day conveniences that we feel like we just can't do without were invented by someone who just wanted to sit down and relax.

So the next time you sit in your car with bags and bags of groceries, or the next time you text someone, or vacuum the floors, use an electric knife, or ride your ride-on lawn mower, thank the anonymous lazy fellow who invented it. He may well have been one of my antecedents!

--This post dictated to my computer through voice-recognition software.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

I Love a Rainy Day

It's blissfully quiet now. First time in a long time.

Sunday morning.

Rainy Sunday morning. I thought that I'd catch up on some reading.

One of the first places that I go to catch up on some reading is The Feathered Nest.

Deloris has a keen way of putting many things in perspective succinctly.

On Thursday Delores spent some time Absorbing the Green. Yes...you can do that.

I think that there are few things better in this life than a nice persistent rain when it's needed. Although admittedly in my area we've been getting a lot of intermittent rain for many days now. The green here is very absorbable.

Today is Sunday, and Delores' rain is now falling upon me. My world this morning is an echo of what Delores had on Thursday. Quiet, but deeper. Rain and snow seem to deaden harsh sounds noises.

I can't for the life of me fathom why some people don't like the rain. It's too often not looked upon, I think, for the grace that it is. Why do I like what so many folks would call "dreary" weather? I'll submit that my definition of "dreary" is different from the mainstream definition as it applies to this conversation.

Visitors that almost always come to call on a rainy day, but seldom come on a day that is not rainy:

Quiet - such an elusive ally - comes to call on a rainy day. Quiet has had wanderlust the past weeks, and has been errant my doorstep, but today, at last, she has come to visit...at least for a cup of coffee in the morning. She arrived in the night while I slept, though she does not know how long she can stay. We shall see.

Calm - Quiet's twin - has also while I slept nestled into my home. Calm usually visits only after Quiet has been in residence for a while. Calm is insidious, and I am generally not aware of his presence until he leaves. I am glad that he came in the night; he's always easier to spot in an empty room.

Peace - first cousin to Quiet and Calm - is here today as well, and often comes to me with the gift of limited, optimistic prescience. Peace whispers in my ear on a rainy day that it is unlikely that my home will be invaded by visitors. Visitors aren't a bad thing, really, but they pretty much are guaranteed to chase Quiet and Calm (both of whom are the quintessential introverts) out through the back door. Peace arrives on the heels of my sense that Quiet and Calm will share more than just a quick cup of coffee with me. The twins, I think, will be here for most of this morning.

Satisfaction - not a stranger by any means, but a (if I may use the word) polymorphic friend - comes with the rain in a particular way. Often, Satisfaction points out to me a job well done, or a soccer game well played. On days that are not rainy Satisfaction is often accompanied by Exhaustion (an often welcome visitor, Exhaustion is a high-maintenance visitor who wears out his welcome pretty quickly) and shows up after I've had a fair wrestling match with Honeydo. On a rainy day, like today, Satisfaction is joined by one of my favorite allies: Reflection.

Reflection - often a neglected friend of mine - grows into my home very much like a plant. Reflection needs sunlight, to be sure, but also needs the rain, and on rainy days, just as the parched plants in my yard (and in Delores' yard, it seems) raise their faces to the rain-soaked sky in adoration and seem to come to proper life, Reflection proliferates due to the rain. For me, Reflection is always easier to find (and therefore visit with) on a rainy day. Reflection is a philosopher, which may be why I enjoy her company so well. She is inquisitive and provocative, and asks sometimes hard questions that need answering, but that always lead to deeper questions, which lead me along warrens and paths to eventually find and recognize Reflection's children:

Contentment, Pleasure, Gratitude, and Sufficiency - but four of Reflection's children (there are too many to list comprehensively) play at my house on a rainy day. This morning, the house is not spotless - my own laundry is left incomplete and is draped over the back of the sofa, dishes are in the sink, and there are many things out of place (the natural effect of living in a home, really), and there are a lot of what should be irritating things similarly watching me and silently wondering when they will be attended. But after my conversations with my rainy day visitors I like to watch Reflection's children play. They tell stories of my own children at times - how they are growing or have grown into fine specimens of humanity (if not yet humility). They remind me that through all of our trials, my lovely wife of so many years (who yet slumbers under Peace's kiss) is still my best friend and biggest fan...the one person in the world who legitimately and unfailingly has my best interests in her heart. They also remind me that in this world so full of suffering and strife where so many are without, my house is full of food, laughter, good will, and all manner of things that make worthwhile those times when my rainy day visitors are off to parts unknown.

Soon the inhabitants of my home will wake. Quiet will be the first to depart, though she may linger to greet the first one or two who rise up to join me. Quiet does not like to be around lots of people at once. Calm rarely lingers when Quiet departs. He is protective of his twin. I don't usually see Calm show up, but I always know when he leaves.

Reflection is chased away pretty quickly too as life returns to my little house, and Peace is a bit capricious, really. and may linger or not as people wake up. You just never really know.

Satisfaction and reflection's children, however, do linger typically. The children like to watch as new stories are made - stories that they can replay for me during later visitations - and they have sharp minds and wits.

Thus do I find myself on a rainy day reacquainted with Recollection. Recollection is one of my favorite visitors. He is a small imp, much like Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream. He is imperfect, and causes different people to relive the same set of event in different ways. Recollection reminds me of events often differently than he reminds others of those same events. Like Puck, Recollection is a peculiarly magical entity. 

Recollection causes me to relive my life in such a way that He leaves out critical players (like Anger, who may have slipped in under the door or Resentment who likes to poke those who do not like to be poked), which allows me to today laugh at things that transpired in my life that at the time made me very angry or hurt, or even frightened.

Have you ever had one of those experiences that, at the time, was very tumultuous, but you or someone said something along the lines of, "Someday, you'll look back on this and smile (or laugh)"?

That transition from the experience itself (from yelling or crying) to the recollection of the experience (now displaced by years) when you *do* laugh or smile at it, is the work of these rainy day visitors.

They may not come to your house on rainy days, but that's when they visit me, and that's why I Love a Rainy Day.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Greatest Olympic Athlete of All Time...?

So I've been watching a lot of Olympics lately. I'm pretty sure many of us have. Here in the states you can't get away from the swimming and gymnastics events...it's just about all that any media is talking about (and as of yesterday the women's soccer team too).

They keep calling Michael Phelps the Greatest Olympic Athlete of all time.

This is trash, I think.

Not to belittle the things that Michael has accomplished. He's definitely an outstanding swimmer, but does that make him the greatest athlete of all time?

For those of you who watch and follow American Football, this conversation puts me in mind of so many (many, many) conversations about Drew Bledsoe - the long-time quarterback for my own beloved New England Patriots. His supporters will tell you that he's one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. He set all kinds of records for passing yards, passing attempts, and such.

Well, he set records for passing attempts because his coach repeatedly told him to try to pass the ball. He set records for passing yards because he was a great thrower and had excellent accuracy. AND the coach told him to throw the ball. That happens when you have no running game.

I can't in good faith claim that Drew was a great quarterback. He was an excellent thrower though (and a true sportsman as well). I don't think he read defenses 'with the best of them' and his ability to scramble was limited to making eggs.

In the same way, I can't get behind the claim that Michael Phelps is the greatest athlete of all time. He's clearly an excellent swimmer. Looks to me like the undisputed best in the world, judging by all the records and medals he now owns. Is he the best ever? I don't know (I don't seem to know much, do I?)

As for the "Greatest Athlete" part, I'd have to submit that the primary reason that he's got so many damn medals is because he has the opportunity to participate in so many damn events. Contrast that to the soccer teams, who have the opportunity to win only one medal every four years. In fact, I'll go out on a ledge to say that *most* athletes have the opportunity to win comparatively few medals compared to swimmers (and gymnasts or track & field athletes).

So Michael got four gold medals and two silver medals this year. It's certainly impressive, but does that make him a greater or better athlete than anyone on the women's soccer team? How about the women's beach volleyball team? Or anyone from any of the teams where they only have the opportunity to win ONE medal every four years?

As for the "...of All Time" part, is that fair? Mark Spitz was an Olympic swimmer, but he only participated in two sets of Olympic games (1968 & 1972). Between these two sets of games Mark won 9 gold, a silver, and a bronze. Strict math tells us that Michael has done better than that, but back in the late '60s and early '70s things were different.

Swimmers had hair, for one thing. They also wore ridiculous suits. Ok...they *still* wear ridiculous suits, but today's ridiculous suits are designed to improve swim times. So are the caps that they wear, but that they didn't wear back in Spitz's time.

In addition to longer careers, today's athletes have many advantages over yesterday's:
Diet (including the chemical additives that are in so many of today's common foodstuffs), technique, equipment (which is better designed from different (more advantageous) materials to be more effective / less drag...), electronic measurement systems, etc.

I have to wonder what might happen if we stuck Michael in a pool with ALL of the swimmers who ever came before, all of them at their peak, put them in just pain old swimming trunks like you see in backyards across America, and told them to race. Make sure that they've all got hair too.

Who would win? Again: I don't know, but I think that there's a lot to say for doing things the ancient ways: naked.

Just you and the other participants, built the way you were born.

Is Michael the greatest Olympic athlete of All Time? Just because he has more medals than any other athlete?

Not to my thinking. I don't even think that he deserves the title of Greatest Olympic Athlete of 2012. I think that title should go to Ashton Eaton, who won the gold in the Decathlon.

To be clear: Until I wrote this, I had never heard of Ashton Eaton. I just did a websearch for "Decathlon" and his name showed up as the one who took gold for the men this year.

You get a gold (bear in mind: a single Gold Medal) from a two-day, ten-event trial, and then I think you have greater claim to the title "Greatest Athlete" for that year. They probably aren't even the best in the world for each of those individual events (I'll bet).

Michael Phelps did one thing repeatedly better than anyone else: he swam (affording myself some latitude for the different strokes that are in swimming).

Ashton Eaton did ten different events from Javelin Throwing to Running to Pole Vaulting...) in aggregate better than anyone else did those same ten events.

Of all time? I like to be careful when I use phrases like this, being as left-brained and logic-bound as I am. We don't have any visibility whatever to the Olympic games or athletes who actually started this competition. We have records as far back as 776 BCE, but they were going on before that. Of course in those early games, according to about.com, there was only one event, and it was a foot race.

What did those folks look like? Remembering also that back then, they didn't spend 24/7 training for the Olympics. When the time came, they dropped what they were doing and headed off for Greece. In fact, the winner of the game in 776 BCE was a cook named Coroebus (it's on the internet, so it must be true, right?).

Coroebus no doubt took his laurel wreath, and when he caught his breath went back to his kitchen to make something to eat. Laurel wreath broth, no doubt.

The ancient games ran (no pun intended) up until 393 CE...over a thousand years of (recorded) Olympic games. Who's the "Greatest of all Time"?

FEH!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Archery Lessons

One thing that I've been passively interested in for a long, long time is archery.

I have owned a recurve bow for many years now, and always had this 'I'd like to get a target and start messing around with that' inkling. My family has a generations-long tradition of procrastination, and so it is that only recently (in part an effort to get the "kids" (in quotes because they are much older now, and for the most part somewhere between child and adult) off of their video games and outside actually doing something) that I actually took an active step in getting out and playing at archery.

Thus, we tripped down to the local sporting goods store and got the bow strung, bought a target, and some arrows, and set things up in the back yard.

We are all in the family pretty new at this, though, so we miss the target more often than we hit it.

I guess the second scion needed some inspiration...call it focus...whatever you will. He did this:


You may be able to see that the lad hit the bunny too: just above its stuffy little heart. This, from the family vegetarian!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

At the Chiropractor

There are a few conversations that I have repeatedly. Not because I enjoy that specific conversation, but I find that this advice and (I'd like to think) information seem to be useful repeatedly. I thought I'd share (with permission) this exchange that I had with a friend...you never know who might find help...

....at the Chiropractor.

The Query:

Hey, your family is no stranger to injury….maybe you can help me. I’ve had a hell of a time with my lower back recently. My doctor says sciatica. My physical therapist says SI hypermobility (a hip issue). They are prescribing me narcotics and muscle relaxants which is definitely not a long term solution. I’m in PT but I want a second (third?) opinion. I’ve tried a bunch of doctors but this one only does in-patients, that one isn’t taking new patients and my PCP can’t recommend a specialist because nobody knows what’s actually wrong!!!! I’d go to a Chiropractor but I’m not convinced its back related. Any suggestions?

The Response:

Go to the damn Chiropractor.

Fun factoid: Chiropracty (my word) is NOT about treating a person’s back. It’s about treating a person’s ailments from a bio-mechanical perspective.

Think of this: if your ball joint is wearing on your car, you’re going to get worn-out tires, and perhaps (if the ball joint problem is left for too long) extra wear and tear on associated joints along the steering column. I’m talking a bit out of my element here, so grant me some lee-way. The point is that the issue with the ball joint can appear at other areas in the vehicle’s system. 

The chiropractor will seek to realign your entire skeletal system, not just the back. My chiropractor has said many times that when you address a problem with a joint, you need to also address the adjacent joints because those joints will have been compensating for the one that’s out of whack. 

Thus, if you have a problem with your knee, you’d need to mechanically treat your ankle and hip too.

Traditional (western) doctors do not ascribe to chiropracty as a legitimate medical discipline. Very Allen Harper.

When I started to go to the chiropractor, I had an issue with my ankle that was outstanding for months. I had twisted my ankle twice on a singe October day, and this was January. It was still inflamed and weak and what, and it looked like a broken bone. I had to go to a few specialists before one guy said that it’s not broken, but that I have a bone chip in my ankle.

The specialist told me that all I needed was PT. He said to go to the chiropractor if I had problems with my back, but for this, PT would do the trick. He wrote a script. I threw out the script and went back to the chiropractor. He realigned my ankle in <5 minutes and I was all better (as good as it was going to get, having been dislocated for three months), only needing a little time for inflammation to go away.

Drs. will never (or exceedingly rarely) tell you to go to the chiropractor. In my experience the chiropractor can fix a TON of things that Drs think can be fixed only with a scalpel or PT. My chiropractor also fixed my tendinitis (golfer's elbow, specifically), in about ½ of a minute. I haven't had any issues with that in several years at this point.

Here’s a quote for you:

“If the only tool that you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”
~ Abraham Maslow


Drs. have two tools: scalpels and drugs. Ok three tools, including PT. These are the only ways that they know how to fix problems.

Chiropractors treat, in a whole-body fashion, the muscular-skeletal person, from the scalp down to the tiniest toes. It may not be a one-visit cure (since your body is so used to being out of tune), but a good chiropractor will be able to cure your sciatica permanently, given that you don’t have any underlying skeletal issues (I, for instance, have a condition in which my lowest vertebra is not fused properly, so I’ve got to keep on top of it or my sciatica will return).

The chiropractor will be able to tell you what’s wrong, and he’ll fix it too.

Qualifier: there's little that a chiropractor can do about hypermobility; they can adjust the joint, but as it it a hyper-mobile joint, it'll just slide back out of place in short order. But you'll have more information, at the very least.

Go to the chiropractor.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Business Travel...again

I thought I'd write a brief note about what I thought was an extremely nice experience during my business trip last week. I was flying by way of Dallas on to Shreveport Louisiana for some training. Louisiana in July would not have been my pick, but that's where the training was. Ugh.

I also don't like to fly...gives me super-bad headaches. Plus, if something goes wrong, you can't really duck, and there's rarely an accident that is no worse than a fender bender. When something goes wrong, it has a great chance of going *very* wrong. As a safety engineer, I tend to look a the complexity of an air craft and dwell on all of the things that can go wrong, and what effect those wrong things might have. It's in my training. It's what keeps me off of roller coasters. Well, that, and roller coasters make my insides churn.

In any event, on this particular trip I remembered everything except the Advil. By the third hour of the trip to Dallas, I had an awful headache. I asked the flight crew if they had any Advil or Tylenol, but alas, they did not. They offered me soda, but that stuff turns your bones into talc, so I declined.

Coffee? Nope. Sorry. She *just* dumped it.

Dang. As it was only a half hour 'till touch-down, I declined their repeated offers to brew a new pot for me. Seemed like a waste of coffee, and I'd be able to get meds on the ground in somewhat short order. I went back to my chair and tried to relax.

In no time at all, one of the kind ladies of the flight crew showed up with a cup of coffee for me. How nice! She mentioned that even if I get a little, the caffeine may help a bit.

I was really surprised that the crew would be so nice to little old me! But wait! There's more!

The lovely woman sitting next to me, understanding that I apparently had a headache, offered me some Advil (or Tylenol). How nice! This is what made her a lovely woman, and not just the lady sitting next to me. These two women helped to restore my faith in humanity!

But there was one more kind person nearby too, because the flight attendant showed up a moment later with Tylenol that another passenger offered up for an ugly fellow passenger in pain. Apparently hearing of someone with a headache, anther passenger volunteered to help out!

I really thought that was nice, and it made that particular flight a pleasant memory in spite of wishing that I could remove my forehead and stick it in my carry-on.

Usually, the few times that I've flown, all I've ever gotten is "no, we don't have that...go sit down and hum".

This was the first time that I've ever flown American Airlines, and I was very pleased. The crew certainly went out of their way to help me out, and did it with a smile. Four smiles, actually, because that's how many women were there when I originally asked, and I'm sure that they had a conversation about making the coffee for me even after I declined.

I have another trip likely to come up in November. I'm hoping to: 1) remember to take Advil, and b) fly American Airlines!

Louisiana was ok, but very hot in July!

Poor Grammar Might Cost You That Job

I stumbled upon an interesting blog article on grammar today.

I've been trying to not harp too much on the abysmal use of grammar that I see (and that drives me...and therefore my lovely wife...nuts) as I go through what passes for my life, 'cause I know, from the few comments and posts that I've read on all your sites (and mine, a bit), I'm only preaching to choir, and I'm a pretty unfit preacher to say the least.

BUT, this one is a little different, and worth a read: This fellow refuses to hire candidates that exhibit poor grammar.

And I must say: GOOD MOVE!

He also makes reference to a book that I very much enjoyed the first three-quarters of: Eats, Shoots, and Leaves. The author got a bit too preachy for my tastes towards the end of the book. That book is here, at Amazon, should you care to pursue it.

In any event, I thought that the article would be entertaining for folks to read. I'm actually going to pass it along to my college kid...it might inspire him to pay a little more attention to details.

Have a nice day!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Vanity is a Costly Affair

Camping two weekends in a row! It's a nice, comfortable, economical way to get away from the house and its never-ending burden of chores and tasks that come along with being home.

Now to be fair, I don't necessarily consider what we do "camping". We have a 26-foot trailer (Jayco 26P) that we drag around to live in while we're trying to enjoy the outside and a little time with card or board games. It's a bit like dragging a small house with you everywhere you go; we've got a king sized bed, bunk beds, refrigerator, microwave, stove, bathroom (complete with a shower). We're not "roughing it" by any means. We very comfortably slept 8 folks this weekend.

But I'm not here today to talk about my "camping". I'd like to tie up a thought relative to my bald rant, and that is how we as a people spend a fairly large fortune on trying to be something that we're not. I'm talking primarily about cosmetics, whether it's hair coloring, eye shadow, foundation, perfume, blush, mascara...whatever.

As a society, as I'm sure we can all agree, the media are pounding us consumers with messages and images of what we should look like, and what we should find attractive.

You can't look good without:
Big, thick eyelashes;
Big, thick, irrationally red lips;
Hair that is a different color than whatever color you currently have (doesn't matter what color you've got, a different one is better);
Being taller;
Appearing younger...like no later than your early 30's;
Whiter teeth...

The list goes on, but essentially, they cite so many things that make absolutely no tangible difference and reveal what a shallow society we are.

The quote that runs constantly through my mind, tying this together for me is:

"They say it's mostly vanity that writes the plays we act; they tell me that's what everybody knows.
There's no such thing as sanity, and that's the sanest fact; that's the way the story goes."
~ Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits)

I am, naturally, very happy that we pretty much all use deodorant and soap, and I'm more than happy to admit that certain people look better with a little makeup (recognizing, at the same time, that "better" is a subjective term). But I also think that NO ONE looks good with a ton of makeup on.

There is definitely such a thing as too much. And I also think that the world would be a better place without folks bleaching their hair. You want to dye out the grays? Sure...go ahead, if it makes you more comfortable.

And although it's only tangential, heels that are more than a couple of inches high are nothing other than stupid. 6-inch (and higher, I've seen) platform shoes are among the most idiotic things on the planet, in my opinion.

Given my choice of super made-up stunningly beautiful woman and minimally made up pretty woman (all other things being equal), I'd take minimally made up every time. To me, that speaks of a real confidence and honesty, both of which are traits to be admired.

Keep it real!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Hair = Confidence???

So I keep running into things - commercials, personal experiences, readings, news items...etc - that have me asking what the hell people are thinking.

I'm sure that everyone has this reaction once in a while; it might also be known as 'Why would you do that?'

The TV tells me that if you're a man, you need to have hair, and that hair needs to have no gray in it. What the hell are they thinking? The fact that there are a seemingly rapidly growing number of kits, solutions, comb-ins, and technologies suggests to me that there's a large and growing market for this 'fix'.

Men all around at least the USA seem to be under the impression that they are NOT men unless that are both NOT bald and NOT gray. What the hell are they thinking?

I know, I'm educated and successful, I get along with most everyone I meet and I enjoy doing a wide variety of things. But, dammit, I've got these gray hairs! How on earth am I supposed to attract a woman with these gray hairs? I'll never get ahead in business either! How can I possibly win at Parcheesi with these thrice-damned gray hairs?? I can't do *any*thing because I've got Grays! Boo-hoo-hooo...I've gotta DO something about this atrocity!

At least I'm not BALD...I'm not THAT GUY. I can dye my hair, but him? That cue-ball's got problems.

What the hell are they thinking? Am I off base?  Personally, I like my grays...I earned them!

Being that you folkses are largely readers of the feminine persuasion, you tell me: does it really matter that much that I've got gray hairs? Or that I'm bald?

I can't figure out why my confidence as a man and as a person should be emaciated by the fact that my hair is no longer what it was when I was a kid...any thoughts?